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The area between the chest and the hips. Contains the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.

Abdominal Migraine
(ab-DOM-uh-nul MY-grayn)

See Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome.


The way nutrients from food move from the small intestine into the cells in the body.

Accessory Digestive Organs
(ak-SES-uh-ree dy-JES-tiv or-gunz)

Organs that help with digestion but are not part of the digestive tract. These organs are the tongue, glands in the mouth that make saliva, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.

(AK-uh- LAYZ-ya)

A rare disorder of the esophagus. The muscle at the end of the esophagus does not relax enough for the passage to open properly.



A lack of hydrochloric acid in stomach juice.

Activated Charcoal
(AK-tuh-vay-ted CHAR-kohl)

An over-the-counter product that may help relieve intestinal gas.


A disorder that is sudden and severe but lasts only a short time.


The abnormal union of surfaces normally separate by the formation of new fibrous tissue resulting from an inflammatory process; sometimes after intestinal trauma or surgery a part of the inflamed intestine adheres to the abdominal wall or onto another part of the intestines, causing intestinal kinks, strictures, or obstruction.


A condition that occurs when a person swallows too much air. Causes
gas and frequent belching.


An inherited condition causing the lack of the enzyme needed to digest
milk sugar.

Alagille Syndrome
(al-uh-GEEL sin-drohm)

A condition of babies in their first year. The bile ducts in the liver
disappear, and the bile ducts outside the liver get very narrow. May lead
to a buildup of bile in the liver and damage to liver cells and other

Alimentary Canal
(al-uh-MEN-tree kuh-NAL)

See Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract.


A condition in which the body is not able to tolerate certain foods,
animals, plants, or other substances.


An acute or chronic infection. Symptoms vary from mild diarrhea to frequent
watery diarrhea and loss of water and fluids in the body. See also Gastroenteritis.

Amino Acids
(uh-MEE-noh ASS-udz)

The basic building blocks of proteins. The body makes many amino acids.
Others come from food and the body breaks them down for use by cells.
See also Protein.

Anal Fissure
(AY-nul FISH-er)

A small tear in the anus that may cause itching, pain, or bleeding.

Anal Fissure
Anal Fistula
(AY-nul FIST-yoo-luh)

A channel that develops between the anus and the skin. Most fistulas
are the result of an abscess (infection) that spreads to the skin.


An operation to connect two body parts. An example is an operation in
which a part of the colon is removed and the two remaining ends are rejoined.


Not enough red blood, red blood cells, or hemoglobin (HEE-muh-gloh-bin)
in the body. Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that contains iron.


Abnormal or enlarged blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract.


An x-ray that uses dye to detect bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Anorectal Atresia
(AY-noh-REK-tul uh-TREEZ-ya)

Lack of a normal opening between the rectum and anus.


A test to look for fissures, fistulae, and hemorrhoids. The doctor uses a special instrument, called an anoscope, to look into the anus.


Medicines that balance acids and gas in the stomach. Examples are Maalox,
Mylanta, and Di-Gel.


Medicines that calm muscle spasms in the intestine. Examples are dicyclomine (dy-SY-kloh-meen) (Bentyl) and hyoscyamine (HY-oh-SY-uh-meen) (Levsin).


Medicines that help control diarrhea. An example is loperamide (lo-PEH-ruh-myd) (Imodium).


Medicines that prevent and control nausea and vomiting. Examples are promethazine (pro-MEH-thuh-zeen) (Phenergan) and prochlorperazine (pro-klor-PEH-ruh-zeen) (Compazine).


Medicines that help reduce or stop muscle spasms in the intestines. Examples are dicyclomine (dy-SY-klo-meen) (Bentyl) and atropine (AH-tro-peen) (Donnatal).


An operation to remove the upper portion of the stomach, called the antrum. This operation helps reduce the amount of stomach acid. It is used when a person has complications from ulcers.


The opening at the end of the digestive tract where bowel contents leave the body.


An operation to remove the appendix.



Reddening, irritation (inflammation), and pain in the appendix caused by infection, scarring, or blockage.


A 4-inch pouch attached to the first part of the large intestine (cecum). No one knows what function the appendix has, if any.

Ascending Colon

(uh-SEND-ing KOH-lun)

The part of the colon on the right side of the abdomen.


A buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Ascites is usually caused by severe liver disease such as cirrhosis.


The condition of having a disease, but without any symptoms of it.

Atonic Colon
(ay-TAW-nik KOH-lun)

Lack of normal muscle tone or strength in the colon. This is caused by the overuse of laxatives or by Hirschsprung’s disease. It may result in chronic constipation. Also called lazy colon. See Hirschsprung’s Disease.


Lack of a normal opening from the esophagus, intestines, or anus.

Atrophic Gastritis
(ay-TROH-fik gah-STRY-tis)

Chronic irritation of the stomach lining. Causes the stomach lining and glands to wither away.

Autoimmune Hepatitis
(AW-toh-im-YOON heh-puh-TY-tis)

A liver disease caused when the body’s immune system destroys liver cells for no known reason.


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A chalky liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray.

Barium Enema X-Ray
(BAIR-ee-um EN-uh-muh EKS-ray)

See Lower GI Series.

Barium Meal

See Upper GI Series.

Barrett’s Esophagus
(BAH-ruts eh-SAW-fuh-gus)

Peptic ulcer of the lower esophagus. It is caused by the presence of cells that normally stay in the stomach lining.


Noisy release of gas from the stomach through the mouth. Also called burping.

Bernstein Test
(BURN-styn test)

A test to find out if heartburn is caused by acid in the esophagus. The test involves dripping a mild acid, similar to stomach acid, through a tube placed in the esophagus.


A ball of food, mucus, vegetable fiber, hair, or other material that cannot be digested in the stomach. Bezoars can cause blockage, ulcers, and bleeding.


Fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.

Bile Acids

(BY-ul ASS-idz)

Acids made by the liver that work with bile to break down fats.

Bile Ducts
(BY-ul dukts)

Tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion.

Biliary Atresia
(BILL-ee-air-ee uh-TREEZ-ya)

A condition present from birth in which the bile ducts inside or outside the liver do not have normal openings. Bile becomes trapped in the liver, causing jaundice and cirrhosis. Without surgery the condition may cause death.

Biliary Tract
Biliary Dyskinesia
(BILL-ee-air-ee dis-kuh-NEEZ-ya)

See postcholecystectomy syndrome.

Biliary Stricture
(BILL-ee-air-ee STRIK-sher)

A narrowing of the biliary tract from scar tissue. The scar tissue may result from injury, disease, pancreatitis, infection, or gallstones. See
also Stricture.

Biliary System

See Biliary Tract.

Biliary Tract

The gallbladder and the bile ducts. Also called biliary system or biliary tree.

Biliary Tree

See Biliary Tract.


The substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down. Bilirubin gives bile its color. Bilirubin is normally passed in stool. Too much bilirubin causes jaundice.

Bismuth Subsalicylate
(BIZ-muth SUB-sal-ih-SIL-ayt)

A nonprescription medicine such as Pepto-Bismol. Used to treat diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, and nausea. It is also part of the treatment for ulcers caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (HELL-uh-koh-BAK-turpy-LOH-ree).


Fullness or swelling in the abdomen that often occurs after meals.


Rumbling sounds caused by gas moving through the intestines (stomach “growling”).


Another word for the small and large intestines.

Bowel Movement
(BAH-wul MOOV-munt)

Body wastes passed through the rectum and anus.

Bowel Prep

The process used to clean the colon with enemas and a special drink. Used before surgery of the colon, colonoscopy, or barium x-ray. See also Lavage.

Budd-Chiari Syndrome
(BUD kee-AH-ree sin-drohm)

A rare liver disease in which the veins that drain blood from the liver are blocked or narrowed.

Bulking Agents

(BUL-king AY-jents)

Laxatives that make bowel movements soft and easy to pass.


See Belching.


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Stones or solid lumps such as gallstones.

Campylobacter pylori
(KAM-pee-loh-BAK-tur py-LOH-ree)

The original name for the bacterium that causes ulcers. The new name is Helicobacter pylori. See also Helicobacter pylori.


A mild infection caused by the Candida (KAN-di-duh) fungus, which lives naturally in the gastrointestinal tract. Infection occurs when a change in the body, such as surgery, causes the fungus to overgrow suddenly.


One of the three main classes of food and a source of energy Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. During digestion, carbohydrates are changed into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is stored in the liver until cells need it for energy.

Caroli’s Disease
(kuh-ROH-leez duh-zeez)

An inherited condition. Bile ducts in the liver are enlarged and may cause irritation, infection, or gallstones.


See Laxatives.


A thin, flexible tube that carries fluids into or out of the body.



A tube that goes through the skin into the beginning of the large intestine to remove gas or feces. This is a short-term way to protect part of the colon while it heals after surgery.


The beginning of the large intestine. The cecum is connected to the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum.

Celiac Disease
(SEL-ee-ak duh-zeez)

Inability to digest and absorb gliadin, the protein found in wheat. Undigested gliadin causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. This prevents absorption of nutrients from other foods. Celiac disease is also called celiac sprue, gluten intolerance, and nontropical sprue.

Celiac Sprue
(SEL-ee-ak sproo)

See Celiac Disease.


Too much hydrochloric acid in the stomach.


A series of x-rays of the bile ducts.


Irritated or infected bile ducts.


An operation to remove the gallbladder.


An irritated gallbladder.

Cholecystogram, Oral
(KOH-lee-SIS-tuh-gram, OH-rul)

An x-ray of the gallbladder and bile ducts. The patient takes pills containing a special dye to make the organs show up in the x-ray. Also called oral cholecystography.

Cholecystography, Oral

See Cholecystogram, Oral.


A hormone released in the small intestine. Causes muscles in the gallbladder and the colon to tighten and relax.



Gallstones in the bile ducts.


Gallstones in the gallbladder.


Blocked bile ducts. Often caused by gallstones.


A fat-like substance in the body. The body makes and needs some cholesterol,
which also comes from foods such as butter and egg yolks. Too much cholesterol may cause gallstones. It also may cause fat to build up in the arteries. This may cause a disease that slows or stops blood flow.


A term that refers to disorders that last a long time, often years.


A thick liquid made of partially digested food and stomach juices. This liquid is made in the stomach and moves into the small intestine for further digestion.


A chronic liver condition caused by scar tissue and cell damage. Cirrhosis
makes it hard for the liver to remove poisons (toxins) like alcohol and
drugs from the blood. These toxins build up in the blood and may affect
brain function.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)
(klaws-TRID-ee-um deef-ee-seel)

Bacteria naturally present in the large intestine. These bacteria make a substance that can cause a serious infection called pseudomembranous colitis in people taking antibiotics.


An operation to remove all or part of the colon.


Attacks of abdominal pain, caused by muscle spasms in the intestines. Colic is common in infants.


Irritation of the colon.

Collagenous Colitis
(koh-LAH-juh-nus koh-LY-tis)

A type of colitis. Caused by an abnormal band of collagen, a thread-like protein.


See Large Intestine.

Colonic Inertia
(koh-LAWN-ik ih-NUR-sha)

A condition of the colon. Colon muscles do not work properly, causing constipation.


A test to look into the rectum and colon. The doctor uses a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny lens on the end. This tube is called a colonoscope.

Colonoscopic Polypectomy
(KOH-luh-nuh-SKAW-pik pawl-up-EK-tuh-mee)

The removal of tumor-like growths (polyps) using a device inserted through a colonoscope.

Colon Polyps
(KOH-lun PAWL-ups)

Small, fleshy, mushroom-shaped growths in the colon.


See Proctocolectomy.

Colorectal Cancer

Cancer that occurs in the colon (large intestine) or the rectum (the end of the large intestine). A number of digestive diseases may increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer, including polyposis and Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.

Colorectal Transit Study
(koh-loh-REK-tul TRAN-zit STUH-dee)

A test to see how food moves through the colon. The patient swallows capsules that contain small markers. An x-ray tracks the movement of the capsules through the colon.


An operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body after the rectum has been removed. The surgeon makes an opening in the abdomen and attaches the colon to it. A temporary colostomy may be done to let the rectum heal from injury or other surgery.

Common Bile Duct
(KAH-mun BY-ul dukt)

The tube that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine.

Common Bile Duct Obstruction
(KAH-mun BY-ul dukt ub-STRUK-shun)

A blockage of the common bile duct, often caused by gallstones.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
(kom-PYOO-ted tuh-MAW-gruh-fee)

An x-ray that produces three-dimensional pictures of the body. Also known as computed axial tomography (CAT) scan.


A condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry. A person who is constipated usually has fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Bowel movements may be painful.

Common causes of constipation

  • Not enough fiber in diet.
  • Not enough liquids.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, older age, and
  • Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement.
  • Problems with the colon and rectum.
  • Problems with intestinal function.
  • Irritable bowl syndrome.
  • Medications.


The ability to hold in a bowel movement or urine.

Continent Ileostomy
(KON-tuh-nunt il-ee-AW-stuh-mee)

An operation to create a pouch from part of the small intestine. Stool that collects in the pouch is removed by inserting a small tube through an opening made in the abdomen. See also Ileostomy.


Medicines such as cortisone and hydrocortisone. These medicines reduce irritation from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. They may be taken either by mouth or as suppositories.

Crohn’s Disease
(krohnz duh-zeez)

A chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease causes severe irritation in the gastrointestinal tract. It usually affects the lower small intestine (called the ileum) or the colon, but it can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract. Also called regional enteritis and ileitis. See also Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Granuloma.



A parasite that can cause gastrointestinal infection and diarrhea. See also Gastroenteritis.

Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS)
(SIK-lik VOM-uh-ting sin-drohm)

Sudden, repeated attacks of severe vomiting (especially in children), nausea, and physical exhaustion with no apparent cause. Can last from a few hours to 10 days. The episodes begin and end suddenly. Loss of fluids in the body and changes in chemicals in the body prednisone can require immediate medical attention. Also called abdominal migraine.

Cystic Duct
(SIS-tik dukt)

The tube that carries bile from the gallbladder into the common bile duct and the small intestine.

Cystic Duct Obstruction

A blockage of the cystic duct, often caused by gallstones.


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The passage of bowel contents through the rectum and anus.


An x-ray of the anus and rectum to see how the muscles work to move stool. The patient sits on a toilet placed inside the x-ray machine.


Loss of fluids from the body, often caused by diarrhea. May result in loss of important salts and minerals.

Delayed Gastric Emptying
(dee-LAYD GA-strik EM-tee-ing)

See Gastroparesis.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis
(dur-muh-TY-tis hur-PEH-tee-for-mis)

A skin disorder associated with celiac disease. See also Celiac Disease.

Descending Colon
(dee-SEND-ing KOH-lun)

The part of the colon where stool is stored. Located on the left side of the abdomen.


The muscle wall between the chest and the abdomen. It is the major muscle that the body uses for breathing.


Frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. Common causes include gastrointestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome, medicines, and malabsorption.


An expert in nutrition who helps people plan what and how much food to eat.


Medicines that aid or stimulate digestion. An example is a digestive enzyme such as Lactaid for people with lactase deficiency.


The process the body uses to break down food into simple substances for energy, growth, and cell repair.

Digestive System
(dy-JES-tuv sis-tum)

The organs in the body that break down and absorb food. Organs that make up the digestive system are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. Organs that help with digestion but are not part of the digestive tract are the tongue, glands in the mouth that make saliva, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.
Digestive System
Digestive Tract
(dy-JES-tuv trakt)

See Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract.


Bloating or swelling of the abdomen.


Plural form of diverticulum. See Diverticulum.


A condition that occurs when small pouches in the colon (diverticula) become infected or irritated. Also called left-sided appendicitis.


A condition that occurs when small pouches (diverticula) push outward through weak spots in the colon.


A small pouch in the colon. These pouches are not painful or harmful unless they become infected or irritated.

Dry Mouth

See Xerostomia.

Dubin-Johnson Syndrome
(DOO-bun JAWN-sun sin-drohm)

An inherited form of chronic jaundice (yellow tint to the skin and eyes) that has no known cause.

Dumping Syndrome
(DUM-peeng sin-drohm)

A condition that occurs when food moves too fast from the stomach into the small intestine. Symptoms are nausea, pain, weakness, and sweating. This syndrome most often affects people who have had stomach operations. Also called rapid gastric emptying.

Duodenal Ulcer
(doo-AW-duh-nul UL-sur)

An ulcer in the lining of the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).


An irritation of the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).


The first part of the small intestine.


An infectious disease of the colon. Symptoms include bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea; abdominal pain; fever; and loss of fluids from the body.


See Indigestion.


Problems in swallowing food or liquid, usually caused by blockage or injury to the esophagus.

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